ATLANTA - When Matt Klentak planned his travel schedule for the season and circled his team’s final road trip, the Phillies general manager might have imagined that he would be watching the players he assembled dousing each other with champagne in a rival’s clubhouse.
But playoff trips are not clinched in March. The Phillies are clinging to their slim playoff chances, and Klentak is spending three days in Atlanta conducting exit interviews with players alongside manager Gabe Kapler. It’s the rival Braves and Nationals who can clinch playoff berths against the Phils.
“This season had its share of ups and downs,” Klentak said before Wednesday’s game. “That puts us where we are today.”
The Phillies began the season with playoff expectations, not hopes. They added five former All-Stars, traded their top prospect, and added nearly $500 million in payroll.
But things went awry. Their bullpen was ravaged by injuries, their center fielder was suspended for alleged domestic violence, their leadoff hitter tore his ACL, and their starting rotation stumbled. The Phillies upgraded nearly every area of their roster in the offseason except starting pitching. They placed their trust in the growth of their young pitchers.
“It’s hard to look back and second-guess that thought process,” Klentak said. “It’s easy to look back and second-guess the results. Just like many Phillies fans have second-guessed. We made a lot of adjustments to our team last offseason in a lot of areas -- many of those have worked out, some have not -- but I think the best we can do is to look at the reasons we made or didn’t make decisions and try to learn from it.”
The front office was aggressive in the offseason, but it seemed to throttle back during the season. It traded for Jay Bruce and Corey Dickerson to replace the injured Andrew McCutchen, but plugged the bullpen with three relievers who had been designated for assignment. It declined to sign Dallas Keuchel and opted against trading for a high-profile pitcher, instead adding Jason Vargas and Drew Smyly to bolster the struggling rotation.
“I think what we should be evaluating is the contributions that those players made, and hopefully will continue to make, and less what we gave up to get them,” Klentak said. “I understand that sometimes what you give up can serve as a proxy for aggressiveness or intent, but I think there’s also a value in reading a market and trying to make the best deals that you can. I know that some of the players that we brought in may not have been household names, but I think most of them have performed in such a way that they’ve delivered what we hoped they’d deliver, which is adding depth to our bullpen and keeping us in games in our rotation.”
Instead of preparing a champagne toast, Kapler is reminding his players this week to “fight to the finish line,” no matter the playoff odds. Perhaps the Phillies’ playoff chances would be better this week if they added more impact players in June and July. Nearly every other wild-card contender was more aggressive at the deadline.
Or maybe the Phillies would be in the same spot this week, but missing key prospects, because the front office emptied the farm system to shore up a team that was more flawed than it seemed on opening day.
The regular season ends in less than two weeks. For the Phillies, that means the offseason is probably close. And they’ll have plenty of time in October to think about what happened.